How a Westside love story hatched the Crow, Santa Monica’s newest comedy club

Although named for a jet-black bird, Santa Monica’s Crow offers the opposite of the dark brick walls that audiences imagine when they think of a comedy club. Instead, light is catapulted from pristine white walls and seeping through the corrugated iron roof, falling into corners and onto the warm wooden stage. Lush green plants, watered every Wednesday, spread and stretch towards the sun. Rows of mid-century velvet chairs patiently await an audience. If you didn’t know that jokes were told here, you would think this was a place where artists huddle together to discuss the nuances between Seurat and Signac, or where book clubs meet over a cup of coffee.

Home to a main stage, a second floor “nest” for smaller shows, and a leafy room with a charming reading nook, the three-part club is the manifestation of Nicole and Mickey Blaine’s lifetime dream. “I started doing stand-up with my second pregnancy [child] and started opening microphones right after she was born,” says Nicole, leaning her elbow on the club’s bar, which currently serves chocolate milk and apple juice.

“I was 34 when I started stand up. I literally pumped my breast milk on my way to Meltdown, the coolest spot in LA for open mics, and I felt like nobody looked like me,” she says while surveying the stage. “They were all very young and very cool. And I would put those little bottles of breast milk in a freezer bag and go in and hope they didn’t leak.”

For Nicole, creating a safe and accessible space for comics at all stages of her career was a vision she shared with Mickey from the very beginning of her gigs.

“We’ve always believed in comedy. At our lowest points, there was always someone there to hold us back and make us feel comforted,” says Mickey. “We wanted to create this community space to offer an opportunity to people who may not always have opportunities.”

If you ask the Blaines, who have been married for 20 years, how the Crow got its name, you get a love story. The couple grew up on the West Side of Los Angeles in the ’90s and met on the set of their high school adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. Nicole, a munchkin, and Mickey the scarecrow chatted for hours while painting a background with the Wicked Witch’s crows.

Nicole Blaine sits on handcrafted chairs at The Crow Comedy Club

Nicole Blaine sits on handcrafted chairs at The Crow Comedy Club

(Andrew Levy)

When Nicole was 18, she said goodbye to her family, Mickey, and friends and moved to UC Davis. Then, in the middle of her freshman year, she got a call from her brother asking her to come home right away. “My stepdad had a major nervous breakdown and became addicted to crack,” says Nicole. “In the midst of my mother trying to save him — his business, the house — she became an addict herself.”

In a taping of Pipe Dreams, a one-woman show that Nicole performed at the Hudson Theater in 2005, her mother brings her onstage for a Q&A. A viewer asks her mother about the time she offered crack to her teenage daughter. “If you’re an ex-crackhead, you know there’s a part of your brain that doesn’t work with reality at all,” her mother said. “And I don’t think I really wanted her to take it. I think what I really wanted was for her to let me keep taking it.”

The day she was back in town from college, Nicole met Mickey while hanging out with a mutual friend. At the end of the evening, in decent ’90s commercials, he gave her his pager number, and when she returned to UC Davis, they talked every day. “We were always in intense conversations about the future and who we wanted to be with,” Mickey recalls. A die-hard optimist, Nicole credits this chance meeting to her mother. “If it weren’t for this tragedy, I wouldn’t have met him [Mickey] on this one day, in this one place,” she says. “I would never have been home without that call.”

Two weeks later, Nicole’s roommate told her that a guy named Mickey called and was waiting for her at the airport. “I borrowed a friend’s car and drove to the airport,” laughs Nicole. “He looked at me and said, ‘I just want to let you know that I love you. And I will marry you one day.’”

She left Davis to return to her childhood home in Santa Monica to care for her 14-year-old brother. Mickey moved in with her and worked three jobs to help Nicole and her brother through this difficult time. Eventually, Nicole applied to Loyola Marymount University and went back to college. “[Mickey] got me through college, and I said, ‘As soon as I’m done, I’ll turn around and bring you in.’ At the LMU we only overlapped for about a year. But we did it.”

Since then, Nicole and Mickey have produced several projects together, including “Life is a little”, Nicole’s stand-up special on Prime Video and “virgin sacrifice‘, a live show at the Westside Comedy Theater where novices shared the stage with artists like Damon Wayans, Ali Wong and Jeff Garlin. “I had almost a hundred virgins,” jokes Nicole.

But it was the pandemic and encouragement from Nicole’s mother, who is now clean, that led to the formation of The Crow. As Nicole struggled with depression in 2020, her mother reminded Nicole of her dream of building a theater. “She says, ‘I’ll take you there,'” says Nicole. “‘I’ll get you through this. I’ll teach you how to do it. I’ll sign anything you need. I’ll take care of your kids while you and Mickey work late. Let me give it back to you.’”

The crowd during a recent show at The Crow

The crowd during a recent show at The Crow

(Andrew Levy)

Over the next year, Nicole and Mickey searched all over LA for The Crow’s home—her hometown of Santa Monica, which has few comedy venues, drew her in for you,” says Nicole. The duo made their home at Bergamot Station, an artists’ colony owned by the City of Santa Monica since 1994 and a key stop on the Big Blue Bus, the city’s main public transit system.

Today, The Crow offers a stage and a community for every kind of comic. The program of the shows is aware that not only today’s audience fills each of the club’s 75 seats, but also the people who will be sitting there in 10 years. A big focus of The Crow is a comedy summer camp teaching kids how to write and perform their own material. It ends with a live performance for family and friends. “I want you to have access to top comedians so you can see and talk to the top pros and ask them, ‘Did that work?’ ‘ Nicole describes the lessons learned during the camp. “It integrates the professional level, experienced comedians and lets them connect with Gen Z who will have so much to say and we need to give them the tools to do that.”

The Blaines are also committed to organizing weekly shows for regulars and newcomers alike, whether they’re first-timers or pros. Scheduled Tuesdays is “Boys Drool,” an open mic at 6 p.m. for female and non-binary comics that gets you five minutes on the mic for $5. On those same nights, at 7:30 p.m., The Crow welcomes everyone during “Murder at the Mic,” where your name is plucked from a bucket and gives you a three-minute set. There are also plans to host a BYOB comic night for moms. “This is a place built for breastfeeding old aged women. It will be called BYOB: bring your own baby. Bring your own chest. Bring your own bottle,” Nicole grins. “Free stroller parking.”

Other shows on the agenda include Call Me by My Hebrew Name, hosted by Abby Feldman each month in honor of Shabbat – Nicole visualizes the stand-up as “a full comedic Seder” – and Comedia en Español. a line-up to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day that will be 100% in Spanish. Comic veterans to have rolled through the crow since opening in June include Ian Edwards, Willie Macc, Jenny Zigrino, Jordan Conley, Danny Jolles and Dana Moon.

Kalea McNeill takes the stage on The Crow to film their comedy special

Kalea McNeill takes the stage on The Crow to film their comedy special

(Arthur Hamilton)

On a recent night, comedian Kalea McNeill took the stage for one of the club’s flagship nights called “Laughter After Dark” to record a sold-out hour-long special. “I knew the special we were going to do was going to be amazing because I felt completely at home in that space,” McNeill said after the show. “It just had a very down-to-earth aesthetic, which I love. I’m a big handyman. Sometimes you have to do it yourself in the working seat.”

The Crow’s talent for creating a sanctuary for comics and audiences that translates from day to night, or as Mickey puts it, offering a place “where you’re not afraid to turn on the light” is in its infancy back: two children in love trying to understand life.

If you ask the Blaines about their matching tattoos, they’ll tell you the story behind the crow. After their first weekend together in Davis, Mickey had to catch a flight. There was a taxi waiting outside the dorm and the sky was dark, strange for an early morning. As the couple walked hand in hand toward the driver, the trees suddenly came alive and what they thought were leaves turned into hundreds of black-winged birds that flew away. “As the crows flew away, all the light poured in. There was no darkness and everything became light,” says Nicole. To commemorate this day, Nicole and Mickey have painted their arms with a tree whose branches are half bare under a flock of crows.

“I want it to be the kind of comedy club that impacts the human experience and makes everyone realize that life is going to be okay,” says Nicole. “It is one of the most powerful art forms. When you enter my space you should be flooded with love and joy. let this be your home.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-08-06/how-a-westside-love-story-helped-hatch-santa-monicas-newest-comedy-club-the-crow How a Westside love story hatched the Crow, Santa Monica’s newest comedy club

Sarah Ridley

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